For years, discussions in coffee houses, board rooms and among politicians across the country have focused on the United States' inability to keep up with the educational performance of its rivals abroad.

For years, discussions in coffee houses, board rooms and among politicians across the country have focused on the United States' inability to keep up with the educational performance of its rivals abroad.

But according to at least one private institution in Kashiwa, Japan, American students have plenty to boast about, including their ability to critically analyze and engage in discussion.

For nearly two weeks, Shinji Akimoto from Reitaku Junior and Senior High schools in Kashiwa, Japan, has spent time visiting teachers and classrooms in Bexley, observing educational practices.

"Shinji (observed) our English classes to learn more about American approaches to reading and writing instruction," said Julie Horger, an English teacher at Bexley High School and Akimoto's host. "Traditionally, (the Japanese) don't focus on analytical reading and argumentative writing as much as we do."

Akimoto was interested in how Bexley encouraged discussions in the classroom, which is different from Japan's more traditional lecture-based learning. Opening the lines of communication in language arts classes in just one way the school hopes to help students develop more critical-thinking skills, said Horger, referring to a practice common in Bexley.

"Students here in Bexley are very motivated to talk and discuss (topics) with their teachers," Akimoto said. "That's why I came."

While observing classes in Bexley, Akimoto said he saw deep discussions, sparked by teachers who asked good questions and fostered strong relationships with their students.

"I learned that teachers in Bexley have a good attitude and listen to students," Akimoto said, "so students are motivated to talk to teachers, even outside of class."

Horger was a guest of the Reitaku Junior and Senior High schools over the past two summers, bringing her insight into language arts to the schools and helping to instill critical-thinking approaches that have proved successful in Bexley. It's an approach the school began many years ago, but has recently looked to the U.S. for guidance in advancing.

"It's a neat experience to see the different approaches in each school," said Horger. "I've been very impressed with what they've done and accomplished in the past few years."

Aside from his hours spent in Bexley classrooms, Akimoto lunched last week with Bexley High School's Japanese Club members. He talked a little about his job and background, then drew the characters of his name and explained its meaning and origin.

Students were intrigued and asked Akimoto questions, including whether it was true that students in Japan have to attend school on Saturday mornings. Akimoto confirmed that is the case in most public and private schools.

Another student asked about the types of clubs that students join at Akimoto's school. Akimoto explained the role of student leaders in classes back home, leading in rituals such as meditating, standing and bowing before class begins.

While in Columbus, Akimoto was able to visit the Ohio State University campus and German Village and have dinner at a student's home. He also took a whirlwind trip to New York City.

This is Akimoto's second trip to the U.S. He chose to visit Bexley because of a relationship that was established between the two schools in the 1990s.